Over the years, we've been regaled by a vision of a wonderfully dystopian future where we - the little people - will be distracted from the vast liberties taken by a corporate controlled tyranny by some form of bloodthirsty designer sport, only to excel at that brutal form of entertainment and change society by scoring one last goal.
Now, the millennium's finally rolled around we see that, much to our interminable vexation, there was no computer initiated nuclear war, alien invasion or devastating global economic collapse to usher in a new age of savage entertainment and human based blood-sports. Instead, we are plagued by a society-gone-insane for a fun-murdering "health & safety" fad, and our chances of a drunken Sunday afternoon watching Houston battle Tokyo on the Rollerball rink are, if anything, further away from realization than ever.
There are attempts at investigating the notion, such as Fear Factor and Survivor, but these are handled in such tooth-achingly saccharine ways the shows could cause diabetes (with any semblance of credibility thoroughly ploughed into the earth by gigantic, tawdry publicity machines).
And what does it say about us, the entertained, who watch these facile programs? Do we watch them due to their core entertainment values? Hardly. We watch them in the hope that something will go wrong, and for a brief and wonderful moment the triteness of Fear Factor will metamorphose into the life altering events of The Running Man. We would talk for years to come about how we saw a "contestant" fall to his death on live TV, or skewered his brain through the eyeball with a reinforcement rod, or ran headlong into another contestant and broke his spine in four places before falling into a vegetative coma for 10 years.
It all sounds pretty repulsive when it's spoken about so blatantly, doesn't it? But let's not pretend that a show which promised and delivered this kind of fatal excitement wouldn't have ratings through the roof. Though it's certain to be remembered as a dire tragedy, Steve Irwin recently proved our love of dangerously real entertainment. Why else did people watch him aggravate animals for so long, if it wasn't for the chance that one of them would prove the lethal abilities he regularly told us about? No use complaining when it happens.
We may have developed a peculiar set of moralistic and socially-restrictive boundaries when it comes to civilized entertainment, and we may cluck our tongues and throw sanctimonious eyes skyward when it comes to violent sports, but the fact remains that when all programmed notions of civility are stripped away, violent, aggressive entertainment is intrinsically compatible with raw human nature.
Naturally, videogames have stirred up more than an equal share of the controversy when it comes to flaunting supposedly decadent and irresponsible forms of sadistic entertainment. Indeed, the industry was still new when the first sectarian protests against "playing the digital bad guy" arose in 1976 due to an arcade game inspired by the controversial movie Death Race 2000.
The forerunner to the videogame, starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone, caused plenty of uproar all of its own, though time seems to have tamed it and branded it with something of a chintzy visage. The story entailed a tyrannical government's practice of distracting the oppressed populace by staging a cross country road race which required the drivers to kill people en route to score points (the basis for many a contentious computer game to come, wouldn't you agree?). As with many of these murderous franchises, the protagonist not only comes out on top of his chosen sport, but manages to topple a government in the process.
Hell, if a few rounds of potentially fatal televised violence could get rid of some of the nutcases running today's world, who wouldn't be tempted to get behind the wheel?
Even in 1975, opinions of acceptability were considerably different than today's. More relaxed in some aspects (infanticide and unprovoked murder were no problem), while remaining dogmatically Victorian in others (no swearing, please, we're reactionary). Movies were at least age restricted, but videogames were for kids, and when the new Death Race machine from Exidy gave players the opportunity to take on David "Frankenstein" Cassidy's role from the cult movie, moral panic hit the arcades of America.